Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Steven Posch

Steven Posch

Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

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The Tattoo I'd Get, If I Had the Cojones

I know exactly what tattoo I'd get, if I had the cojones to do it.

Well, tattoos.

For shockingly close on 50 years now, I've been godsman to Him of the Horns. They've been good years, even the bad ones, hard but good.

So I'd wear the horn for Him: ram's horns, I think, curling elegantly over and around the ears, as the Horned Apollo (Apollôn Karneîos) wears so jauntily on this silver didrachma (circa 250-225 BCE) from Kyrene in North Africa, as Two-Horned Alexander wore as Son of Ammon. As god, they say, so priest.

In a pagan world, I'd have done this long since. For now, I'll bide the while. I'm planning to make it (be warned) to 113, so there's plenty of time. I'll need something to look forward to when I'm 85, after all, and well beyond caring what they think.

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  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    Do it while your skin is still young and can handle the ink and the needle.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    (Cackles.) Let's!
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    I want to get a pair of runes on my forearms that Jack designed to look like whittled branches: Ansuz and Isa. I'm not entirely gi

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The King is Dead

The Yule Log is ash now, its ancient work accomplished.

I kneel on the hearth and sift the ash with my fingers, seeking the last charred remnants.

From such bits of last year's Log, I kindled this fire on Midwinter's Eve. Stalwart, this Yule's Log burned for nearly two full days.

I knew the tree that it came from. Five years ago, on Midsummer's Day, a massive line of thunderstorms crashed through the city, leaving hundreds of broken trees in its wake. From one such, an elegant silver maple across the street—seventy-five years old, if a day—this log was cut. Since when it has dried on the front porch, awaiting its sacred work.

I close the damper and wrap the handful of charcoal in an old, stained piece of silk, stowing the packet in a canvas bag that once held brown basmati rice. There on the back stairs, beneath the bronze Green Man mask, the fragments will await next Yule, warding the house until then (it is said) from fire and lightning-strike.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Do You Suffer from Premature Celebration?

AP: Minneapolis, MN

Are you thoroughly sick of Yule by the time the Solstice rolls around?

Does your Yule begin the day after Thanksgiving and end on December 22?

If so, you may be suffering from a condition known as Premature Celebration.

Premature Celebration—also known as Christmasitis—is a debilitating and virulently contagious disease endemic among Americans. Characterized by temporal dislocation, manic activity followed by depression, and elevated levels of cynicism, Premature Celebration instills in the sufferer an overwhelming need to transfer activities previously reserved for the holiday itself, such as parties and rituals, to the period before the holiday.

Such a transfer, of course, inevitably results in a sense of anomie, déja vu, and exhaustion by the time that the holiday itself rolls around. In the case of Yule, it means that there's simply nothing left to do by the time Yule actually comes, because you've already done it.

Experts, for the most part, agree that Premature Celebration has more or less destroyed Christmas as a religious holiday for many American Christians. Whether or not it will have the same destructive effect in the pagan community remains to be seen.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Sounds exhausting. My Yule: Troll Night (13 nights before Midwinter's Eve), Mother Night (=Midwinter's Eve), Thirteen Days of Yul
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    Yule tree stays up till the 3 kings leave...damn autocorrect..
  • Murphy Pizza
    Murphy Pizza says #
    When I lived in the WI/IL stateline area, there were folks.who put up their Xmas lights after freakin Halloween... I grew up Medi

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Wheel Dance

At the very heart of our Yule each year turns the Great Dance of the Wheel, the dance of the Sun's Rebirth.

Listen while I tell of it.

Wearing holly, the circle of men faces outward. Wearing ivy, enclosing, the circle of women faces in.

The two circles take four steps toward each other, then four steps back.

Then the circles wheel. One moves sunwise, the other, widdershins.

(There's a metaphor to be savored here, but that's for later.)

Again the concentric circles expand and contract. Once again they wheel, reversing direction.

Then repeat.

The song that accompanies the dance tells the seasons of the Sun's life: winter, spring, summer, fall, and back again to winter. In one infinite instant, the Sun is begotten, born, begets, and dies. Like the dance, the song wheels, returning again to its own beginning. In the end, it becomes a round, turning and turning on itself.

In this way, we work our magic.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Good question, Ian. I would think that what you wanted to wear and where you wanted to dance would be up to you. Tradition is fixe
  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes says #
    What would you do if a non-binary person (like myself) wanted to dance?

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A Bridge Dyed Red with the Blood of a Poet

Yule morning. A friend and I are driving back from singing up the Sun out of the Mississippi River valley.

Each year, as we have for decades, on Yule morning we sing the Sun up from a bridge once dyed red with the blood of a poet.

Surely such a bridge must stand forever.

My friend gets a text from his partner, who has decided to forgo the annual cold and discomfort of the river valley's microclimate, and instead has proceeded directly to the Sunrise brunch location towards which we're currently heading.

“Where is everyone?” she writes.

In fact, the singing was particularly good this year, and we lingered long to savor it. You could feel our songs calling up the Sun out of darkness. You could feel us calling the trees into bud, the apples into blooming and fruiting, all in their own proper season.

“'Minneapolis Bridge Collapses, Coven Killed,'” I intone in my best self-important banner-headline tone.

We riff off of this scenario for a few minutes, laughing.

“They'd still be telling stories about us a hundred years from now,” I say.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Wearing of the Green

Me, I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a Santa hat in public (or in private, for that matter: sorry, not my mythos), but even so, you won't have any problem picking me out in a crowd by my headgear.

I'm the one that's wearing a sprig of holly tucked into the roll of his cap.

Every morning, on the way out of the house, I snap off a fresh twig from the bush that grows by the front gate and don it for the day.

Let the cowans think what they may. (Probably: Gods, what a geek.) So what if it makes me look like a plum pudding? I'm a pagan, and pagans wear our holidays.

Tonight, when together we dance the Great Dance of the Wheel for the Sun's rebirth, the men (inside, facing out) will be wearing holly, the women (outside, facing in) ivy. Holly and ivy, male and female: that's the custom.

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  • Donna Swindells
    Donna Swindells says #
    A great salute to the Pagan Gods & Goddesses at Yule. Your article is spot-on.

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The Lie that Tells the Truth


A massive commotion out on the front porch. The kids rush to the window to see what's happening. That's when the screams begin.

Out of the darkness of Midwinter's Eve, a hideous face is looking back at them from the other side of the pane, mere inches away. Over her shoulder pokes the muzzle of a huge black goat, seven feet tall if an inch.

The door crashes open of its own accord.

Oh gods, no! It's “Mother” Berhta: Old Witch Winter in person.

The kids are terrified, the kids are delighted. They'll be playing Mother Berhta for weeks. Berhta is mean, Berhta is scarey. Berhta kicks Santa's butt any day of the moon.

And she's the one with the presents.

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  • Andrea
    Andrea says #
    Very nice!

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